Image courtesy of Yahoo Canada Style.
After averaging 29 points and 425 yards per game this season, the Minnesota Vikings (1-3) entered Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns (3-1) expecting a shootout. Instead, the offense worked its way to a seven-point performance, 255 and lost 14-7. With how well they’ve played this season, it was a disappointment to see Kirk Cousins and the rest of the offense throw away their best defensive performance of the season. The Vikings will have to correct their mistakes if they have any hope of getting back to .500 by week seven.
It looked like the Vikings were going to have a quiet afternoon as they opened Sunday’s game with a 75-yard touchdown of 14 plays that concluded with a touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson. It was the third consecutive game in which Minnesota scored a touchdown in its opening series. However, that would be the last time the Vikings would score in the game.
One of the main problems Sunday was the Vikings’ inability to hold the ball. After their initial possession of 7:34, Minnesota outscored possession 35:32 to 16:54 and left three times and five times. This allowed Cleveland’s defense to stay fresh all afternoon and kept the Vikings offense out of sync. Minnesota also struggled to move the chains, hitting 5 of 16 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth down. In their three losses this season, the Vikings were 13 of 42 (30.9%) at third down. Minnesota was also scored seven times for 42 yards and lost the turnover battle after Kirk Cousins threw his first interception of the season late in the fourth quarter.
Most of these problems were caused by (you guessed it) the offensive line. Despite looking like an improved unit in recent weeks, the Vikings gave up two sacks and 22 total pressures, 16 of which came when they faced just four running backs. Minnesota had the worst pass-blocking win rate of the 28 teams that played Sunday afternoon. The offensive line also failed to generate reverse in the running game, as the Vikings rushed for a season-low 65 yards on 23 attempts (2.8 yards / attempt).
Despite a poor performance from Minnesota’s offense, they still had their chances in the game. While still up 7-0, the Vikings marched down the field in the second quarter and had 4th and 6th from Cleveland’s 36-yard line. Rather than attempt a 53-yard field goal, Zimmer decided to do it and failed to convert, missing the opportunity to go up by two touchdowns. Later in the game, Kirk Cousins missed a touchdown when he hit the ball instead of throwing it at KJ Osborn.
This one will haunt Kirk for a while. He has to break this when he gets his feet back on it, but pulls it down instead. He absolutely had the time to break this up and it was a walk-in touchdown. You can’t take this man down. The pressure is on your head like this, it’s over pic.twitter.com/X1EQktnrjG
– Luke Braun (@LukeBraunNFL) October 3, 2021
If this play were connected, the Vikings would have taken the lead early in the third quarter and had all the momentum in the second half. However, Cousins took a sack and Minnesota was forced to clear the ball.
Despite the overall poor performance, there was something positive to take out of the loss, the continued appearance of wide receiver KJ Osborn. Osborn had three receptions for 26 yards Sunday, including this excellent catch on the wing.
Incredible capture of KJ Osborn in the band. Browns challenged, but stood up and the call remains. Osborn is becoming a great receiver this year. pic.twitter.com/gWoL0GXYve
– Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) October 3, 2021
Osborn was attacked seven times Sunday, tied with WR Justin Jefferson for second-most on the team, and added another 10 yards rushing. If the Vikings have any chance of saving themselves this season, they will need a WR3 to continue producing alongside Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Osborn has shown flashes of being that consistent option this season and should become an even more prominent role as the season progresses.
Kubiak and the offense will need to work a bit this week as the Vikings prepare for the first divisional game next Sunday against the Detroit Lions (0-4), but I hope they bounce back in a big way against one of the league’s. worst defenses. Kirk Cousins is 6-0 against the Lions in his three seasons with the Vikings and has thrown 15 touchdowns compared to a single interception. However, if Minnesota can’t improve on Sunday’s performance and somehow loses to the Lions, it may be time to say goodbye to Zimmer.